All words have power, but words that ignite truths, like the true meaning of Thanksgiving, are infused with an ability to change lives, to open closed minds and hearts, and to offer different perspectives. True meaning can be just what’s needed to see things more clearly or to set the proverbial light bulb in our minds aglow.
That alone is worthy of our gratitude, but in finding the true meaning of Thanksgiving, we also gain an awareness of how imperative it is to understand people. In those insights, we grasp and shape identity—that of others, and our own—and with that collective wisdom, we define, comprehend, and eventually come to appreciate the treasures found in tradition.
Why is tradition important?
What we learn from those who came before us gives us a firm hold on who we were, who we are, and who we choose to become. That knowledge solves a lot of conflicts, potential crises, and strengthens our sense of self—as individuals and as a nation.
So what can we learn about Thanksgiving? What in it is significant to us today?
To answer those questions, we must ask: What does Thanksgiving really mean?
Time typically confuses things, and right now we’ve an abundance of confusion. Many say we’re neck-deep in a national identity crisis. So rather than discuss the confusion, let’s call on the wisdom of truth. Reacquaint ourselves with it—unfiltered—by returning to the man who officially established our nation’s Thanksgiving holiday.
In 1789, on Thanksgiving Day, George Washington issued the following Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, beginning a tradition in the United States of America that is celebrated still today.
Washington’s 1789 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation
“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor – and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
“Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be – That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks – for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation – for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war –for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed – for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
“And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions – to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually – to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed – to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord – To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us – and generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
“Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
By his own words, we see the true meaning of Thanksgiving. We gain insight. We find its truth. We rediscover the value in tradition. The wisdom of knowing our history. In all this, we see the mark of character, and individually we choose to shun or embrace it, deciding who we are, and who we will become.
May the traditional spirit of Thanksgiving be a blessing to you and yours. And in times that try souls and make us weary, may we remember to hold fast to our traditions—our identity—and embrace them with attitudes of gratitude. Because, for all our flaws and challenges, ours is an exceptional nation of exceptional people. We might lose our way at times and we forget who we are. Others might encourage that. But we have the treasures of our traditions and their true meanings to remind us.
This Thanksgiving, may we recall who we are, whose we are, why we are who we are, and the value of knowing who we wish to become.*
Vicki Hinze, ©2014
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